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stories and 

from a bihari 

kimberly nathane 

photography by 
kimberly nathane 

cover design and layout by 
lora winslow 

Sunset at the Maha Bodhi temple in Bodh Gaya 

A traditional mud home kitchen. 

Between Courses: Stories and Recipes from a Bihari Kitchen 

This project is a cross-cultural series of essays using food as a focus. From 
February to March of 2004, 1 lived in an Indian household in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India. 
While living there and collecting family recipes, I learned that the kitchen is not only a 
place to cook, but also a place where the women learn their role in society at large. The 
essays in this project draw on those observations and how they affect me as a young 
American woman. The essays also reflect the rhythm of rural Indian life, not only 
cooking and child rearing, but also enjoying Hindu festivals and how to celebrate a 
marriage. Recipes from the family are woven throughout the book, creating a wholesome 
glimpse into the lives of Indian women of my generation. 


I dedicate this book to the grandmothers, 

mothers, and daughters of India. 

To the women that wait for the rain and smile in a July 

the women who watch their children grow into young 


the women that endlessly tell their stories to 

those who are willing to listen. 

To the millions of women that aren't heard, 
this is for you. 

A man walks down a small guli in Banares. 




I have to thank the women and girls of the Singh family 

first-off— Shanti, Annapurna, Bhuriya Nani, Gujari, Mema, 

Minal, Bucky, Sonu, Fruti, Varsha, Ladly, Babli, Labhi, and 

Prianka ka Mommy— for the lessons in life, the food, the tears 

and all of the smiles. 
Aap log ham ko parivar hai. 

I also have to thank my family and friends for allowing me to 

follow a path with no defined direction; 

Candice Stover for helping me put my thoughts into words; 

Anne Kozak for her patience through long distance e-mails and 

for urging me along; 

Lora Winslow for her endless support, acting as my role model, 

and showing me my potential— oh, for layout too; 

and to all of those who agreed to be my guinea pigs while I 

perfected my recipes. 

























i an 

Morning bathers wash in the holy Ganges river 




This book is a collection of stories and recipes 
of an Indian family I cooked with in Bodh 
Gaya, Bihar through February and March of 
2004. It is both a cookbook and a piece of 
writing, meant to be read as well as cooked 
from. It is a study of women and family 
culture through food, using cuisine as a 
vehicle. By the time you reach the end of the 
book, I hope that you have learned the taste 
of home-cooked Bihari food as well as been 
introduced to the family that taught me to 
listen to Hindi conversations when I thought 
I couldn't understand, how to speak when I 
was unconfident of my skills, and how to 
smile at and love a culture unlike my own. I 
hope that these stories and recipes will also 
teach you to look at life through a different 
eye, to trust what is different, and to have 
confidence in the unknown. 

After living in Bodh Gaya for three months, I 
was introduced to the Singh family through 
their son and my good friend, Chullu. I 
remember coming to their house for the first 
time in late January to meet and get to know 
them; Annapurna, the eldest sister, told me 
to sit on the wooden bed in her house and 
served me chai. We both were quiet and shy; 
her three daughters stared at me while I 
played with my dupatta scarf. I showed them 
pictures of my family and friends, trying to 
break the ice; they showed me pictures of 
picnicking in beautiful saris and sunrises 
during festivals. It was an awkward day, full 
of silent moments and nervous giggles. At 3 
p.m., Annapurna took me to the front house, 
where her mother lived, to watch Indian 
serials with Shanti, the mother; Gujari, the 
middle sister; and Mema, the youngest sister. 
How was I to know that in a quick month that 
Annapurna would cry lonley tears to me, 

Gujari would tell me stories of desertion by 
her husband, and Mema would teach me all 
the recipes I would learn? I remember that 
afternoon vividly, all of us wrapped up in our 
purple, blue, and pink winter shawls, sitting 
on a huge wooden bed, watching Kasauti 
Zindagi Kay, one of their favorite soap operas, 
on their small black and white television, and 
talking about passing gas. I laughed a lot that 

When I think of the day that I left Bodh Gaya 
to return to America, I am struck with a 
longing to return to the Singh household, to 
drink chai with them on a cool evening, to hear 
Gujari's yell my name as I arrive at the house 
in the morning, to play tag on the roof with 
Annapurna's daughter Sonu, to cut potatoes 
in the courtyard with great-aunt Phuwa. 
During my time with them, I was taken under 
the wing of the Singh women, taught how to 
cook, how to act, and how to live like an 
Indian woman. 

When I arrived in the Singh household, I 
knew little about Indian cooking. Everything 
in the Indian kitchen was new to me, from 
the way they boiled their rice to the way they 
ground their masalas, or spices. Their 
cupboard was filled with raw vegetables, 
cauliflower, over ripe and under ripe 
tomatoes, dirt-encrusted potatoes, bunches of 
cilantro, piles of spicy chilies; their cow's milk 
hung above the stove in a metal bucket and 
dipped into when needed for chai. There was 
no refrigerator, no packaged food; everything 
was made from scratch. I found myself in a 
place I'd never been before, a place where 
gender rules dictated one's actions, where 
women were confined to the kitchen, never 
leaving the house, where days passed without 
counting, and children grew into young 

Many rural middle-class Indian women 
rarely leave the house; they live in a state 
called purdah. Out on the street and in the 
markets, men outnumber women. Often men 
will do the marketing, bringing home 
vegetables or new saris for their wives. 
Women stay at home with their families. It is 
seen as respectful and a sign of social status 
to have the ability to keep your wife in the 
house: you show that you have enough 
money because your wife does not have to 
work or does not go around alone. Though 
children are free to run around in the 
neighborhood, in and out of houses, women 
stay inside their courtyards. Living in the 
state of purdah, a woman's rights are taken 
away. She doesn't have the ability to move 
around freely or act as an individual. In the 
two months that I was with the Singh family, 
I only remember Mema and her sisters 
leaving the house about four times. A sheet 
always hung over the front door to shield 
outsiders from looking in on the courtyard, 
and if Papa ever saw that the sheet was left 
open, he would yell and scold his daughters. 

Though I didn't live in purdah because I slept 
in a guesthouse down the road, I often felt 
like I was constricted to the house. I often 
wondered if the women of the house felt 
trapped like me or like their freedom had 
been taken away. After living with them for 
two months, I learned that though they may 
have felt caught and restrained, they rarely 
felt as though they had lost their freedom by 
living in purdah. They had never had the 
freedom given to them to begin with. Ever 
since they finished school between ten and 
sixteen years-old, they had remained in the 
home, beginning the life of an adult woman. 
But I learned to accept what surprised me and 
made me uncomfortable. Though I do not 
agree with the rules of purdah, I realized that 
this was their lifestyle; they must obey the 
laws made for them by their fathers and 
husbands. I discovered that this was the 
women's culture of rural India, that most of 

the women I met through the Singh family 
lived the same as they did, spending their 
whole lives in the house, praying to their 
gods, raising children, and caring for their 

By living with and learning how to cook from 
the women of the Singh family, I was given 
the opportunity to discover the culture of 
Indian women that is often hidden within the 
home. In the beginning I was a guest in the 
house amongst strangers. By the time I left, I 
was a daughter amongst sisters and mothers, 
helping bathe their children, measuring rice, 
and helping myself to aloo mutter and tomato 
chutney. My memory of India is tied to the 
flavors of their chutney s and masalas; now 
when I smell mustard oil warming over the 
stove in my kitchen, I wish I was back in the 
small cement courtyard, watching Mema fry 
potatoes and listening to children sing Hindi 
film songs. 

This book is a journey into an Indian family 
through their food. It is the story of a family, 
the story of an American girl that was taught 
to be Indian, and a diary of the days spent 
with the women of the Singh household. 

Afternoon sun in a traditional mud home. 


Gujari has her feet painted by a local woman. 

Mema applies mehndi to her hand for her marriage. 

Varsha grinds spices to make masala for lunch. 


Wt V\\oV&w 

Corrugated metal covers the kitchen from the 
hot sun, a humble yellow tarp is the wall 
between the water tap and the stove, a 
cupboard stands in for the third wall of the 
room. There is no front wall or door to the 
kitchen, making it feel outside. A humble 
light bulb hangs in the corner by its wires. 
The two-burner gas stove sits on a short table, 
metal plates called thalis, pots for cooking dal, 
metal cups for chai, small bowls, and metal 
spatulas are hastily stacked on an old sewing 
machine table in the back corner. On a brick 
ledge next to the stove, essential spices— 
cumin, garlic, dried chilies, sugar, tea, and 
salt— are stored in old plastic containers with 
purple lids. A karhai, similar to a large metal 
wok, sits on the stove filled with remnants 
from the day's lunch. 

Life in the household revolves around this 
tiny outdoor kitchen. Each night women sit 
on the ground in the center courtyard cutting 
potatoes or spinach, peeling garlic, or mixing 
dough for the evening's meal. Mosquitoes 
swarm around them as they tell stories and 
gossip about neighbors. They spend the 
entirety of every day in the courtyard next to 
the kitchen. It is there that the family roots 
are buried and grow, as women sing and joke, 
as they cry and smile; the kitchen is witness 
to their lives. 

They have grown up in the kitchen, as babies 
on their mother's hips while she cooks aloo 
brinjal, as toddlers reaching for the jar of sugar 
to snack on, as school girls rolling out chapatis 
every night for their families, as young 
women making tea and cooking all of the 
meals, as new wives preparing kheer— rice 
pudding— to impress their new husbands' 
families, and as mothers with their own 
children on their hips. Girls of ten years old 
are put in charge to cook the family's meals, 

to feed their younger siblings, to grind 
masalas, to watch the karhai boil. By the time 
they are fifteen they know how to cook 
anything they've ever eaten. 

Each day is spent cooking, making tea, 
washing clothes, cleaning the house, napping, 
and scolding children. For the women of this 
household, this is their life. As with many 
Indian women, they leave the house only with 
permission from their fathers, brothers, or 
husbands. Life is spent contained by the walls 
of their homes with their families. They rarely 
go to the market and very seldom travel the 
30 minutes to Gaya to go shopping. Each 
woman learns to make herself content in the 
courtyard picking through rice, on the roof 
hanging clothes, or watching her children 
grow. If they feel frustration, they push it 
down and ignore it; they don't express it. 
They learn to serve their brothers, husbands, 
and fathers. They learn to focus on cooking 
over the two-burner stove. 

Hundreds of bare feet 

have passed over the 

kitchen floor, some with 

red nail polish and toe 
rings, others with painted 

feet and cracked heels. 

As they grow up over the karhai, stirring 
bhugiya or aloo sera, they are taught to be 
satisfied with the life in front of them, to make 
peace with the kitchen, as that is where they 
will spend the majority of their lives. They 
are told to care for their families before 
themselves and trained to be good daughters 
and good wives by their mothers and 


grandmothers. They are put to work in the 
kitchen, learning the art of cooking over an 
old greasy karhai. 

In the cramped kitchen, the karhai that rests 
on the stove is black from years of mustard 
oil and masalas cooking over both gas and coal 
fires. Its handles remain bright and shiny, but 
its bottom is charred and covered with dings. 
Generations of women have crossed from the 
courtyard into the kitchen to tend the ever- 
boiling karhai. Hundreds of bare feet have 
passed over the kitchen floor, some with red 
nail polish and toe rings, others with painted 
feet and cracked heels. The kitchen, after 
many years, remains and will remain the 
training ground for young women. 

I had a difficult time finding my role in the 
kitchen. Because I wasn't an Indian woman, 
I couldn't do anything correctly in their eyes. 
They had grown up cutting potatoes the same 
way everyday; when I tried, I always cut 
myself. I could never grind masalas the way 
they could, I could never stir the karhai as they 
did. Instead, I would stand and watch them 
cook, I would talk with them while they 
chopped spinach, I would play with the 
children to distract them from their mothers. 
I was put in charge of simple tasks, washing 
potatoes, boiling rice, ripping beans. But the 
kitchen was where I felt most comfortable, 
most welcome. I was always called over from 
across the cement courtyard to see how dal 
was made or to note down what spices were 
put in the masalas. I would squat near the 
stove and smell the cooking vegetables, I 
would watch spices being ground on the 
grinding stone, and I would sit on the ground 
and hear chapatis cook. Though I couldn't 
cook without their help, I realized I belonged 
in the kitchen with the rest of the women; it 
felt like home. 

The kitchen has seen the women grow up. It 
has felt tears spilled, heard abuses shouted, 
seen families torn apart, heard secrets untold, 
and felt new feet on its floors. The kitchen is 

where women's culture is born and rooted: 
you can taste it in the food, smell it in the air, 
hear it in the sounds, feel it in your hands. 
The kitchen quietly holds the stories of the 
family, as it ever changes; it is the backbone 
of the family. If the kitchen could speak, what 
stories would it tell? 

Old Indian architechture in Banares 

Above: A days dishes. 

Opposite page: Women gather and sing at Mema's marriage. 





Annapurna's thriteen year old daughter made this snack for us while we watched 
Kum Kum, an Indian soap opera, on their color TV. 

1 Vi cups atta flour* 

2 fresh green chilies, such as 

Serrano, diced 
a handful of spinach, chopped 
Vi cup red onion, chopped 
1 tbsp salt 
oil to fry 

^Ingredients in this book marked with a * 
are defined in the glossary on pages 64-5 

♦♦♦ Mix together flour and 
water to form a pancake-like 

♦ Add vegetables and salt into 

♦ Pour small amounts of 
batter on to hot oiled fry 

♦ Fry like a pancake; serve. 

Babli, Ladly, and Labhi sit on bags of wheat in the courtyard. 


mixed \}eke\<\)?\e> v«%kof^ 

Pakoras are made every year on the festival Holi, which celebrates the end of winter. 

Colored powder and colored water, called rang, are thrown at family members and 

-passers-by until they have become entirely red, blue, green, and pink. 


6 handfuls channa flour* 

2 tsp turmeric 

1 tbsp ginger paste 

1 tbsp garlic paste 

1 cup 2 tbsp water 

1 tbsp salt 


Oil for deep-frying 

1 cup cilantro 

4 potatoes, diced 

5-6 fresh green chilies, such as 

Serrano, diced 
Vi head cauliflower, crumbled 

into pieces 
1 red onion, diced 
Vi head cabbage, sliced 

♦ For Dough: Mix all ingredients together to form a sticky dough, 
similar to a thick pancake batter. 

♦ Mix all vegetables into dough mixture. 

♦♦♦ Heat oil in big wok or pan used for frying. 

♦ Drop dollops of dough, the size of an egg, into the oil. 
♦♦♦ Fry until crisp and golden brown. 



Hg pvk 


NOTE: this recipe makes enough dough for both Vegetable Pakori and Aloo Pakori. 


7 handfuls channa flour* 

1 tbsp salt 

2 tsp turmeric 

1 Vi tsp ginger paste 
1 Vi tsp garlic paste 
1 Vi tbsp mirchi powder* 
1 V2 tsp freshly ground black 

1 Vi cumin powder* 

2 cups water 


Oil for frying 

2 small eggplants, sliced into 

2 zucchini, sliced into rounds 
1 ¥1 red onion, sliced into 


Mix all ingredients together to form a sticky dough, similar to 

a thick pancake batter. 

Cover each vegetable with batter. 

Drop into heated oil and fry until crisp and golden brown. 

Fried vegetables, or pakoras, sit on a brass platter. 





NOTE: Use same dough from page 18 — the recipe makes enough 
dough for both Vegetable Pakori and Aloo Pakori. 

Gujari fries pakoras for Holi celebrations. 


25 small red potatoes, boiled 

and peeled and mashed 
3 tbsp mustard oil* 

2 tsp panch phoran see p. 49 
1 tsp turmeric 

3 A cup cilantro, coarsely 

1 red onion, diced 

3 fresh green chilies, such as 

Serrano, diced 

2 inch piece of ginger, ground 

to paste 
7 cloves garlic ground to paste 
oil for frying 

Boil potatoes, peel and discard 

their skin. 

Mash potatoes with a masher, 

spoon, or hands. 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat 

3 tbsp mustard oil until 


Fry panch phoran until it turns 

several shades darker, about 1 


Add turmeric, chilies, garlic, 

ginger, onion to panch phoran 

in the pan. 

Add mashed potato, mix well 

and remove from pan. 

Add cilantro to potato and mix 


Form small patties of potato, 

dip in batter (from p. 18) and fry 

until golden brown. 



Cases of smdoor powder, which married women wear on their foreheads, for sale in Banares. 

4\\A\v\k wi-fk color 

Red, green, and blue water splatters the 
cement courtyard. Phuwa and Memani have 
done their best to wash the pink stains off 
their faces while the children run around, 
rainbows on two legs, showing off to their 
friends. They run in and out of the house, 
ducking under the sheet that covers the open 
door to the neighborhood. Outside the house, 
kids have plastic bottles full of colored water; 
they throw it at anyone passing by, old men, 
mothers, cousins, dogs, cows. The Hindu 
festival called Holi, celebrating the end of 
winter, is well under way. 

The smell of coconut oil wafts out of the room, 
and two freshly showered and oiled sisters 
run down the stairs into the courtyard. They 
are armed with water bottles and small tins 
of colored powder called rang. Water bottles 
are filled, rang poured in, and it is wartime; it 
is Holi time. Though Holi lasts for only one 
day officially, kids around Northern India 
tend to jump-start the holiday by several 
days. Old men walk through the market with 
green dye all over their heads, filling in their 
bald spots; school children walk home 
together holding hands, their white uniform 
shirts splashed with pink rang; dogs run by, 
their fur stained a mix of colors. Children 
stand on roofs and balconies, pouring colored 
water down upon unsuspecting passers-by, 
laughing each time they hit someone— Holi 
is a time of joy, of laughter, and of games. 

The girls grab fresh pakoras, or deep-fried 
vegetables, on the way through the courtyard 
and run out the door into the dirt street to 
battle with neighbors. I sit inside with 
Annapurna and Gujari, eating and learning 

how to make the pakoras they've been cooking 
since 4 a.m. A huge brass platter sits on the 
ground next to a coal-fueled mud stove; 
batter-covered and deep-fried eggplant slices, 
onion, squash called loki, and mashed potato 
balls cover the plate. They show me how to 
measure the channa flour with two-hands, 
how to dip the vegetables into the batter, and 
how to slide it into the bubbling oil. Each year, 
poori, or deep-fried bread, and pakoras are 
made for Holi. The day is filled with snacking, 
throwing colored water and colored powder, 
smiles, and laughter. 

The night before Holi, I spent the night on a 
bed curled up next to Minal, Annapurna's 
fourten-year-old daughter; Annapurna and 
Sonu slept on the floor, while Phuwa and 
Bucky shared a bed next to mine. Sometime 
late at night, I drifted off to sleep, my brain 
tired of translating Hindi conversation; they 
stayed up talking. In the early hours of the 
morning, a young girl came to the window 
calling, "Annapurna didi, time to go." As 
Annapurna crept out of the room to meet her 
sisters and mother in the kitchen, the 
neighborhood slept. Two hours later, a sleepy 
Sonu, Minal, Bucky, and I came outside to find 
all of the women of the house sitting, 
chopping, and frying. I sat down with them 
to begin recording recipes and help cut 
vegetables. We all ate pakoras as we went, 
trying an onion one here or a mixed vegetable 
one there. Oil splatters and pops behind me 
as they tell me about other Holi celebrations. 
"Pichle sal, Ladly bis pakori khaya, Bap re bap! 
Kitna bimar," Phuwa said laughing, last year 
Ladly ate twenty pakoras, oh my god! How 
sick. Mischief is in the air as big brothers and 
young boys try to sneak a bottle of rang up to 
the roof, attempting to pour it down on us as 
we cook them lunch. 


Holi is a community event, celebrated by 
visiting your neighbors' homes and dousing 
them with powder and water. I was invited 
to celebrate Holi with the Singh family weeks 
before people had begun thinking of the 
holiday. The night before Holi, I was urged 
to spend the night with Annapurna and her 
three daughters; Sonu, Annapurna's youngest 
daughter, grabbed my hand and pleaded. She 
smiled and cheered when I said yes. At times, 
I feel like her big sister, but also her best 
friend; she is seven years old. When I stay 
with the Singhs for days at a time, napping 
on the bed next to them after lunch, playing 
make believe with Sonu, brushing my teeth 
in the morning, I feel a part of their family. 
The more time I spend with them, the more I 
forget my blond hair and my English, the 
more I forget I was a foreigner and the more 
I feel I am Indian. It is always a shock to leave 
the house and walk the eight minutes to the 
monastery where I stay, after spending time 
with them. They treat me as though I am a 
family member; on the street, I am stared at 
and once again regarded as a foreigner, even 
though we all smell oipakoras and are covered 
in pink and red powder. 

On Holi morning, I am put in charge of 
drying-off the freshly washed sisters, Ladly 
and Babli, rubbing them with coconut oil, and 
dressing them. Once finished, they run out 
through the courtyard and into the street as 
fast as possible; fifteen minutes later, they 
come back in, soaked blue, green and pink. 

All day they come in and out, throwing color 
on neighbors and on us. They hijack the brass 
bucket normally used for daily pujas and fill 
it with pink rang, tossing it on grandmothers 
and aunts. Over the course of the day, we 
slowly transform into colored canvases, my 
blond hair becomes Kool-aid red, Phuwa and 
Memani's faces are dyed magenta, Shanti's 
sari is splattered greens and pinks, and 
Annapurna's face is smeared with yellow 

Today, as I put powdered color on elders' feet 
as a sign of respect, and children put color on 
our feet, I belong. The elders bless me and I 
bless the children that put powder on my feet. 
The kids pour pink rang all over me; I pick 
them up in my arms and run across the roof, 
laughter erupting, creeping over the 
boundaries of the house. From the rooftop, I 
watch the neighborhood unfold into a blue 
and pink splatter to the rhythm of banging 
drums. I have never seen such beautiful 
colors, on the roads, smeared on clothes, 
under fingernails, in the water swirling down 
the drain. 

At the monastery, I watch the evening news 
on NDTV. Reporters from around India show 
images and tell stories of Holi celebrations 
from different regions of the country. They 
show Bollywood stars in Mumbai, mud- 
wrestling youth in Punjab, packed streets and 
painted elephants in Lucknow, drumming in 
Delhi, women dancing in the street in Bhopal, 
soldiers exchanging color in Jammu and 
Kashmir. As I watch the TV, I wish I'd been 
able to see all the celebrations around the 
country: the music playing in crowded parks 
and throwing color across the dancing 
crowds. But I think of how lucky I am, how I 
was able to spend Holi in a small 
neighborhood where everyone knows who I 
am, where I am regarded as a family member, 
where the children play with me as an equal, 
and where I am welcomed and cared for. I 
spent Holi sharing pakoras off a brass platter 
as a daughter, a sister, an aunty, and a best 

Kids dance on the roof of the Singh house. Opposite page: The 
streets of Banares are flooded with people at a local festival. 



Sonu, Ladly, Babli, the neighbor's children, and I often played tag on the roof until 
sunset, watching the sun disappear behind the green wheat fields in the distance. 
We would come downstairs to the smell of vegetable masalas cooking on the stove, 
and the sound roti being rolled out. An hour later, we woidd get a hot metal thali 
filled with steaming food and a pile of fresh chapati. 

2 tbsp mustard oil* 
1 tsp cumin seeds* 

5 small red potatoes, cut into 

vegetable masala see pp. 45 
1 Vi tsp salt 
1 tomato, cut into wedges 

3 Vi cups chopped cabbage 
1 cup water 



In a large fry pan or wok, 

heat oil until smoking. 

Add cumin, let brown. 

Add potato, fry about 4 


Add vegetable masala and 

salt, mix well and fry 

about 2 minutes. 

Add tomato, mix well. 

Add cabbage, stir. 

Add water and cover over 

low heat, stirring 

occasionally about 15 

minutes until potatoes are 


Turn off heat, stab mixture 

with spoon to mash 

together some; serve. 

Sonu picks out stones from rice. 


a[oo $em wffl/i JuAf$<A m«x$<\{<x 

Mema milked the cow by candlelight every night before beginning dinner. She 

would collect the cow dung and place it in a pile, ready to be made into patties and 

dried in the sun. The patties are used as fuel for fires, women shape them with 

their hands and slap them on walls, trees, houses, and the ground to dry for 

several days. Though we cooked mainly over gas, occasionally we would use cow 

dung and coal fires to cook during holidays. 

Roofs of mud home are shadowed by a new large cement home. 

Vi cup mustard oil* 

1 small red onion, sliced 

4 cups fresh green beans, cut 

into 1 inch pieces 
7 small red potatoes, cut into 

dusra masala see p. 47 
1 tbsp salt 
3 cups water 


In a large fry pan or wok, heat 

oil until smoking. 

Brown onions in oil. 

Add beans and potato, fry 5 


Add dusra masala and mix 

well, frying about 3 minutes 

Add salt, mix well. 

Add water and cover, cook 

about 15 minutes, until 

potatoes are soft; serve. 


tO W AtO <\\00 

This is the first main dish I learned from the women in the Singh 
household. It is simple, but holds a lot of flavor. 

Saris dry near a rice paddy. 


12 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths 

Vi cup mustard oil* 

vegetable masala see p. 45 

1/3 cup water 

5 large tomatoes, cut into wedges 

1 Vi cup water 

1 tbsp salt 

Wash potatoes well. 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat mustard oil until smoking. 

Over medium heat, add potato, stirring continually, about 8 minutes. 

Add vegetable masala, mix well. 

Add tomatoes, fry about 5 minutes. 

Add salt. 

Add 1/3 cup water, over high heat cook about 5 minutes or until water 

is absorbed. 

Add V-A cup water, cover and let boil, stirring occasionally until 

mixture becomes thick and potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes; serve. 



\oo j? 

f\ WfA 


While chopping, Phuwa sang songs of Hindu gods and goddesses with words I 

couldn't understand. When she sang I often looked at her and smiled, wishing I 

could sing with her while I cut potatoes. 

Va cup mustard oil* 

7 small red potatoes, cut 

into eighths 
2 small eggplants, cut 

into 1 inch pieces 

1 small red onion, sliced 
4 small tomatoes, cut 

into wedges 
aloo brinjal masala see 
p. 48 

2 tbsp salt 

3 cups water 

Mema cuts spinach for lunch. 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat oil until smoking. 

Brown onions in oil. 

Add potato and eggplant, fry 5 minutes. 

Add masala, mix well. 

Add 2 tbsp salt, fry 2 minutes. 

Add tomato and water, cover and let boil. 

Cook about 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are soft; serve. 


a [oo muitzf 


On a warm morning, we sat on a wooden bed in the courtyard opening pea pods and 

removing the peas. Women from eight to sixty years old helped in the process, three 

generations on one bed, three generations of cooking poured into one karhai. 

Aloo mutter cooks in the family's karhai. 

4 tbsp mustard oil* 

Vi small red onion, sliced 

10 small red potatoes, cut 

into eighths 
vegetable masala see p. 45 

1 Vi tsp ginger, ground to 


2 tbsp salt 

4 3 A cups peas, if frozen, 
boil first: once boiled, 
make 3 A cup of the peas 
into a paste in a mortar 
and pestle or cuisine art 

7 tomatoes, cut into wedges 

2 Vi cups water 




In a large fry pan or wok, heat oil 

until smoking. 

Add onion and brown. 

Add potato, fry about 7 minutes. 

Add vegetable masala, mix well. 

Add 2 tbsp salt. 

Add 4 cups peas, fry 3 minutes. 

Add tomato, mix well for 2 


Add pea paste, mix well. 

Pour in 2 Vi cups water, cover and 

let boil. 

Cook until potatoes are soft, 

about 15 minutes; serve. 

Two days after Mema's marriage, I danced to Hindi film music with teenagers Bucky and 

Minal, and toddlers Ladly and Babli on the big wooden bed. I carried Babli in my arms as I 

mouthed the words to songs I didn't know. I had to duck so the swinging ceiling fan wouldn't 

hit my head. The girls liked the latest song, It's the Time to Disco; I tried to show them how to 

disco, but they didn't understand. I tended to like the songs they hated. 

Shanti sifts rice in preparation of Mema's marriage. 

3 tbsp mustard oil* 

1 Vi panch phoran see p. 49 

7 small red potatoes, cut into 

vegetable masala see pp. 45 
1 head cabbage chopped 

♦ In a large fry pan or wok, 
heat oil until smoking. 

♦ Add panch phoran, fry 
until spices turn several 
shades darker, about one 

♦ Add potatoes, fry 7 

♦♦♦ Add vegetable masala, 
mix well. 

♦ Add cabbage, fry for 5 

♦ Add water, cover and let 
boil, about 20 minutes. 

♦ When potatoes are soft, 
remove from heat; serve. 



[oo v*x\*%k witl/i $e<m 

Mema and I harvested these beans together from a large bash on her grandmother's 

land. The women instructed me thoroughly on the art of snapping the ends off, 

slicing them down the middle, and ripping them into pieces. As a result, my thumbs 

were sore all afternoon. To this day I do not know exactly what type of beans we were 

eating— they simply called them sem, which translates as "bean." 

l A cup mustard oil* 
2 lbs spinach, chopped 
8 small red potatoes, 

cut into eighths 
40 fresh green beans, 

cut into 1 inch pieces 
1 small red onion, 

5 garlic cloves, roughly 

2-3 fresh green chilies, 

such as Serrano, 

1 tbsp salt 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat mustard 

oil until smoking. 

Brown garlic, onion, and chilies. 

Add potato and fry about 7 minutes, 

over medium heat. 

Add green beans, stirring occasionally 

for 3-4 minutes. 

Add salt, mix well. 

Add spinach and cover, stirring 


Cook about 10 minutes, until the 

potatoes and beans are well cooked 

and spinach is reduced. 

Turn off heat, stab mixture with spoon 

to mash together; serve. 

a: ' 

•y <** 

spinach for the up-coming wedding. 





for left over dal 

The day that the men of the family took Mema's dowry to her fiance's house, we cooked lunch for 

over thirty people. That night, with all the men gone and left over dal, we made a simple 

dinner. The women sat on the ground eating peta and talking about the changing weather. 

Women gather in the courtyard to prepare food for a holiday. 

Mix atta, water and salt 
together into a thick 
oatmeal-like paste. 
Drop pieces, the size of a 
silver dollar, into boiling 
left over dal. 

2 cups atta flour* 

water to desired consistency 

3 tbsp mustard oil* 

7 cloves garlic, made into paste 

4 dried red chilies 
left over dal 

Let boil about 20 minutes, 

stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed. 

5 minutes before finishing, in small fry pan, brown 7 cloves of 

mashed garlic and 4 dried red chilies in smoking oil. 

Add to dal, cook 5 minutes more, remove from heat; serve in 

small bowls. 




|aI< w f Ik $z\t\ 

I remember eating this one day and was surprised at the presence of dill in the meal. 

Dill was often mixed in with spinach and cilantro when it came hack from the 

market, whether or not on purpose, I don't know. But fresh dill adds a flavor to the 

dish that reminds me of February afternoons in the courtyard. 

An early morning flower market. 

4 cups spinach, chopped 
Vi cup fresh dill, chopped 

2 cups fresh green beans, cut 
into 1 inch pieces 

5 sprigs spring onions, 

2 tbsp mustard oil* 

2 fresh green chilies, such as 

Serrano, chopped 
1 tbsp salt 

♦♦♦ In a large fry pan or wok, 

heat oil until smoking. 
♦> Add spring onions and 

chili, fry about 2 minutes. 
♦♦♦ Add beans, fry about 6 

♦♦♦ Add spinach, dill, and salt, 

mix well. 
♦♦♦ Reduce heat to low, cover 

and cook until beans are 

soft, about 10 minutes. 
♦ Turn off heat, stab mixture 

with spoon to mash 

together; serve. 


Though a standard in Indian restaurants abroad, I only ate this dish once in my two 

months at the house. A friend wanted me to leave Annapurna's kitchen and go home 

before we'd finished cooking it, but I said that I must stay and learn how to make Aloo 

Gobhi. It remains the most unique version of the dish I've ever tasted. 

l A cup mustard oil* 
1 head cauliflower, 

8 small red 

potatoes, cut into 

1 small red onion, 

thinly sliced 
8 cloves garlic, 

ground to paste 
1 tbsp salt 
1 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp mirchi 

1 Vi water 
3 tomatoes, cut into 


Ladly watches her aunts pick through rice. 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat oil until smoking. 

Brown onions in oil. 

Add cauliflower and potato, stirring occasionally, about 7 


Add turmeric, mirchi, salt, mix well. 

Mix garlic paste in well. 

Add water and tomato, cover and let boil, about 15 minutes or 

until potatoes and cauliflower are well cooked; serve. 


I often sat on the ground picking the stones out of rice while Mema or Gujari cooked. 

Picking out the small rocks, discolored grains, and bugs was an endless process that 

had to be performed daily before cooking the rice. I never wanted anyone to bite down 

on a stone while eating rice at lunch; I tried to do a thorough job. 

Pilgrims make camp in a local Hindu temple. 

1/3 cup mustard oil* 

2 eggplant, cut into 1 inch 

1 red onion, sliced 
8 small red potatoes, cut into 

3 A head cabbage, chopped 
1 tbsp ginger paste 
vegetable masala see p. 45 
1 tbsp salt 


Heat oil until smoking in a 

large fry pan. 

Add eggplant and potato, fry 

7 minutes. 

Add vegetable masala, ginger 

paste, and salt, mix well. 

Add cabbage, mix well. 

Pour in 2 Vz cups water, cover 

and let boil about 10 minutes 

or until potatoes are soft; 



This version ofAloo Beans was one of the last recipes I learned in Bodh Gaya. It 

was a warm afternoon when Gnjari taught me how to make this. Men were 

constantly coming in and out of the house to take apart the wedding tent from 

Mema's marriage. Those were quiet afternoons once Mema left. Her elder sister 

had taken over all of the cooking duties and I filled in where I could. Mostly I cared 

for the children while their mother cooked our lunch. 

Vi cup mustard oil* 

7 small red potatoes, cut into 

3 cups fresh green beans, cut 

into 1 inch pieces 
2 tbsp ghee* 

2 tsp turmeric 

1 Vi tsp cumin powder* 

1 tsp freshly ground black 


2 Vi tsp mirchi powder* 

3 cups water 

♦ In a large fry pan or wok, heat oil until smoking. 

♦ Add potato and beans, fry 10 minutes. 

♦ Add ghee and spices, mix well, about 3 minutes. 

♦ Add water, cover and let boil. 

♦ Cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes; serve. 

Candles are offered to the Buddha each night at the Maha Bodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, the site of his enlightenment. 


A Puja, or religious ceremony, is performed with relatives before Mema's wedding 


m Ati 

r <r^ 



mAmm ) 


Night has fallen over Bihar and dogs roam 
the streets, mosquitoes come out, front doors 
are closed. I sit with Fruti, a cousin of the 
Singhs who lives in a mud house next door, 
on the floor of the Singh's kitchen. She quickly 
slaps a small ball of dough back and forth 
between her hands. She places it on a round 
metal surface and rolls out the dough, 
creating a perfectly round chapati or flat bread. 
We've moved the stove from the table to the 
floor and I put the chapati dough on a hot cast- 
iron griddle in front of me. I flip the chapati 
with my hands and press down on its edges 
with a piece of cloth, trying to make it puff 
up. "Like this?" I ask Fruti. She clicks her 
tongue, puts down her rolling pin, and takes 
the cloth from me. She finishes my chapati 
for me with a flip of her wrist. I smile at my 
ten-year-old teacher and her laughing little 
sisters, Varsha and Labhi. We continue 
making chapati through the evening, until a 
stack of about forty have been made. 

Making chapati, an Indian flat bread that 
resembles a tortilla, is a chore that is 
performed each day. It reminds me of the 
endless process of picking stones out of 
uncooked rice every afternoon: I feel useless 
because making chapati is a task that I can't 
perform. Though Mema is the prime chapati- 
maker in the house, Fruti fills in occasionally 
when Mema is busy milking the cow or 
cleaning the courtyard. We eat chapati every 
night instead of rice; they tell me that at night, 
chapati is better for you and easier to digest. 

We each eat around four steaming chapati for 
dinner, ripping off pieces and rolling them 
into cones. We scoop spicy vegetables into 
them, slathering each bite, masala dripping 
down our hands. 

Mema and I sit on the kitchen floor most 
nights rolling out chapati dough to the chatter 
of old women. Though the kitchen is outside 
and has only three walls, it becomes our 
private place. Throughout the day it is 
difficult to find a moment together; someone 
is always around. The kitchen floor is a haven 
away from sisters and mothers. Children are 
the only ones that come in and out, that sit 
and listen to us. Mema and I squat or sit on 
bricks, knees tucked into our chests, and talk. 
She tells me about how difficult Indian 
weddings are, how many children she wants, 
and about her brothers. As she rolls out the 
balls of dough, I cook the chapati. She has 
been teaching me how to make chapati for 
weeks now and it is a skill far beyond writing 
down masala recipes and simply watching. 
Mema can somehow make the chapati rotate 
as she rolls them. She gives me the rolling 
pin and tells me to try. I sloppily roll out the 
dough into a lopsided circle, Mema laughs 
and scrapes the dough from the metal board 
and forms it into a ball again. She takes the 
rolling pin back and continues to make expert 
chapati. I go back to my job of cooking them. 

There are times of laughter on the kitchen 
floor, but also times of tension. Every couple 


of nights when her sisters and mother fight, 
Mema is quiet and watches them from the 
corner of her eyes. I hate those times; I feel 
awkward because I can't understand what 
they are fighting about. It makes me 
uncomfortable. Are they fighting about me? 
About Mema's up-coming marriage? About 
money? When they fight, Mema concentrates 
on rolling out the dough; I carefully lay the 
chapati on the griddle, afraid that if I do it 
wrong, she'll get mad at me. Sometimes 
when I am not making the chapati puff 
correctly, Mema will grab the cloth from my 
hand and do it for me. She hands the cloth 
back, and has me try again. In the beginning 
we often laughed at my lack of skill, but these 
days I think she gets annoyed at my lack of 

I want to make chapati well, so I can help with 
the chore, so Mema will at least believe I want 
to learn. One night I simply watched her 
make the chapati on her own, "Bap re Bap! Turn 
bahutjeldi ho," I said. My god, you are so fast. 
Mema replied, "I've been making 
them every night since I was ten. That's why 
I am so fast." Sometimes when Mema's nieces 
are sitting with us, I catch Ladly who is five 
years old, attempting to roll out a piece of 
dough. She holds it up to show her cousin 
Varsha. Babli, Ladly 's younger sister, tries to 
sit in Mema's lap while she makes the chapati. 
Mema scolds her and we laugh. I can imagine 
Mema as a young girl sitting here in this same 
kitchen, watching and wanting to help 
Annapurna make chapati. Mema's nieces and 
cousins are probably just like she was 
seventeen years ago, sticking hands into the 
dough, playing with the rolling pin, reaching 
for a chapati as it cooks over the hot stove, 
getting a slap for almost burning her hand. 
Though Babli is only watching now, in several 
years she will be helping her sister make 
perfectly round chapati for dinner. 

Though I have been welcomed into the 
kitchen by Mema, I still feel of place here. I 

feel useless because I can't help more: I wish 
I could work the chapati with the cloth as they 
can. I am sitting amongst girls of various ages 
who will all at some point in their lives be 
masters of chapati making. At best, I hope to 
practice the art in America, avoiding the 
scrutinizing eyes of Indian women. They 
amusingly tease me, how can a twenty-one- 
year-old-woman not know how to make 
proper chapati? Whenever I make decently 
round chapati with Mema, we cook them. She 
puts them on the bottom of the stack and tells 
me I can eat those for dinner. Here on the 
kitchen floor, Mema and I become friends. We 
hold hands, we work together, we listen to 
arguments, we learn to cooperate as young 
women from two cultures. Sitting together 
next to the stove, a pile of warm chapati 
between us, Mema hands me the rolling pin 
and a ball of dough and tells me to try again. 

Above: Mema cooks dinner on the floor of the kitchen. 
Opposite page: A flower vendor sits on the side of the road. 


<C \c& 

Rice is cooked everyday and is eaten only at lunch time. Village rice is shorter and thicker than the 

basmati rice that tends to be eaten mainly in restaurants. I was amazed at the amount of rice that 

Indians eat each day. Their thali is filled with rice, dal, vegetables, and chutney— every grain is 

finished, wasting nothing. Small children share a plate with their mother or older sister, grabbing 

fistfids of rice and dal, doing their best to get it into their mouths, but most of it ending up on the floor. 

1 cup basmati rice 

2 cups water 

Rinse rice 3-4 times in cold water. 

In a small saucepan, combine rice and water. 

Bring water to a boil, stirring occasionally. 

Once water boils, cover and reduce to a 


Cook about 10 minutes, until all the water 

had been absorbed. 

Remove from heat, let sit five minutes, fluff 

and serve. 

Rice waits to be cleaned by the women of the Singh household. 



\k4\V 4% 



Chapati, also known as roti, is eaten at night as it is easier to digest than rice. Dinners are 

small, consisting ofchapati and a dish or two of vegetables. Often by 6 o'clock while dinner is 

still being made, a mother will give her hungry child a warm rolled-up chapati with a dollop of 

ghee. If they are lucky they may even find a pinch of sugar thrown inside. 

2 Vi cups atta flour* 

1 cup water, room temperature 

extra atta for dusting 

ghee* (optional) 

> Mix flour and water together, 
knead about 10 minutes. 

> Cover dough with a damp 
cloth, let stand 30 minutes. 

> Divide dough into egg-sized 
balls, cover with damp cloth. 

> On a flat, lightly dusted 
surface, flatten one ball of 
dough with your hand. 

> Using a rolling pin, roll out 
the dough into a thin patty, 
about 5 inches in diameter. 

> Heat a cast-iron skillet or 
frying pan over medium heat. 

> Place the rolled dough on the 
palm of one hand, flip it over 
on to the hot pan. 

♦ When the color changes on 
the top of the chapati and 
bubbles appear, turn it over. 

♦ When both sides are done, 
remove the chapati from the 

Gas Stove: If you have a gas 
stove, hold the cooked 
chapati, with tongs, over a 
medium flame and it will 
puff up immediately. Turn 
quickly to flame-bake the 
other side. Do this several 
times, taking care that the 
edges are well cooked. 

Electric Stove: If you have an 
electric stove, chapatis can be 
puffed by pressing them with 
a clean kitchen towel while on 
the hot pan, after it has been 
cooked on both sides. 

♦> Serve hot, either completely 
dry or topped with a small 
amount of ghee or butter. 



oo r i 

This is a favorite of mine, often served in the morning or at special occasions such as 
weddings. After Mema's wedding, we ate leftover Poori for three days, giving the 
extra to the beggars that came to the door seeking spare food from the celebration. 

2 Vi cups atta flour* 
2/3 cup water, room 

ghee* for brushing on the 

bread while rolling out 

the dough 
oil for frying 

Mix flour with water to make 
a stiff dough, knead for about 
10-12 minutes. 
Cover dough in bowl with a 
damp cloth for 20 minutes. 
Knead dough again for 3 or 4 
minutes (the dough should be 

Break the dough into egg- 
sized balls, keep them covered 
with the damp cloth. 
Take one ball of dough and 
dip a corner of ball in melted 
ghee or oil, roll it out into 4 to 
5 inches round. 
Repeat the same process to 
roll out all pooris. 
Heat about one inch of oil in a 
pan or wok until very hot. 
Slide a poori in, immediately 
start flicking hot oil over the 
top of it with a spatula so that 
it will swell up like a ball, 
about 10 seconds. 
Flip the poori over and cook 
the other side until golden 
brown; serve. 

Shanti cooks poori on Holi morning. 


\om<%\o c \mk\wc 


Because this was my favorite chutney, it was often my job to prepare it each day. I would put the 

tomatoes in the mud stove next to the hot coals, rotating them with a pair of tongs. Someone would 

pound the garlic and chop the chiliesfor me while I peeled the charred skins off the tomatoes. My 

favorite part was mashing the tomatoes together in a bowl with my hands. The mustard oil, added 

last, gives the chutney a pure Indian taste that distinguishes it from salsa. It is served by the 

spoonful on the side of a plate, as a sauce to mix your rice, dal, and vegetables with. 

6 large roasted tomatoes, skinned 

4 fresh green chilies, such as Serrano, chopped 
2 tsp salt 

2 tsp mustard oil* 

5 cloves garlic, chopped 

l A small red onion, chopped 

Roast tomatoes over a gas 

stove, over a barbeque, or 

in hot coals, until the skin 

becomes charred and 

tomatoes soft. 

Wash off tomatoes in cool 

water, peel off and discard 

charred skin. 

Mash tomatoes together 

until they become a soupy 


Combine all ingredients in 

bowl and mix well; serve. 

Annapurna prepares tomato chutney. 


f \&w\ 

fO 6 




A spicy addition to any meal, chutneys are normally served only at lunch time 

where they disappear quicker than they were made. The day I was responsible for 

mashing the garlic on the grinding stone was the day I realized how strong these 

women must be, as the grinder weighed over seven pounds. 

Grind all ingredients 
together, except lemon juice, 
in a small cuisine art or with 
a mortar and pestle, until 
paste is formed. 
Squeeze lemon juice onto 
chutney when finished, mix 
well; serve. 

4 cloves garlic 

2 cups cilantro 

3 fresh green chilies, 

such as 


1 Vi tsp salt 

1 Vi tsp mustard oil* 

l A lemon 

Mema grinds chutney on a sil-batta. 


Though I saw this masala made everyday, I still feel I did not perfect it. Vegetable masala is 
typically made on a grinding stone, called a sil-batta. It is used to grind everything from peas 

to legumes to herbs to spices. The sil-batta, made from granite, is aflat rectangular stone 

about sixteen inches long and ten inches wide with divots carved in it. A round rolling-pin-like 

stone is then dragged back and forth over the base to grind the ingredient. When I first learned 

this masala on the sil-batta we were using peppercorns, whole red chilies, cumin seeds, and 

turmeric root; the spices were then ground to make a paste. Using powders, though they don't 

have the same freshness, is much easier when a sil-batta is not present. 

i of spices in a local market 

1 tsp cumin powder* 

2 tsp mirchi powder* 

2 tsp turmeric 

8 cloves garlic, ground to paste 
1 Vi tsp freshly ground black 

3 whole cassia leaves* 

Mix all spices together (except 
cassia leaves) to create a paste. 
Mix masala and cassia leaves 
in to recipe as called for. 


C 1/10 1<I/IA W<A£ a [a 

TTzzs masala accompanies Chokha, or Indian mashed 
potatoes, a Singh family favorite. 

2 tsp mustard oil* 
4 cloves garlic, 

2 dried red chilies 
Vi small red onion, 

sliced (optional) 

♦ Heat oil in small pan 
until smoking. 

♦ Add garlic and chili. 

♦ Fry until brown. 

♦ Remove from heat. 

*You can saute onions 

and add them to the 

garlic and chilies for a 

different flavor. 


Labhi and her older sister Varsh smile with faces full of Holi color. 


#u£ ra m <\ $ 4% I a 

Dusra Masala, is a simple variation to the commonly used Vegetable 
Masala, with the addition of white mustard seeds. 

1 tbsp turmeric 

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 

1 tbsp white mustard seeds, 

ground into paste 

2 tsp cumin powder* 

14 dried red chilies, crushed 
9 cloves garlic, mashed into paste 
Vi tsp ginger, mashed to paste 
1-2 tbsp water 

Mix dry ingredients 


Add ground ingredients 

together, then add to dry 


Add 1 tbsp water, mix 

spices together to form 

thick paste, add more 

water if necessary. 

A plate of turmeric rice sits on a table displaying Mema's dowry. 



\oo b 

r\\A^M m A £ A a 


TTze women always laughed at the close attention I paid when making masalas. To me 

they always changed in proportion. The women always thought that I forgot one 

important ingredient, whether it was garlic or peppercorns, cumin or turmeric. 

They were endlessly entertained at my attempts to cook like them. 

2 Vi tsp turmeric 

7 cloves garlic, ground to 

1 tsp freshly ground black 


1 tsp white mustard seeds, 

ground into paste 
1 tsp cumin powder* 
1 tsp mirchi powder* 
1 tbsp water 

♦♦♦ Mix all ingredients together to form paste, adding 
more water if necessary. 

V \ 

Chilies, an essential part of Indian cuisine, are for sale by the kilo. 



k v\\ 

f A. \A 

This spice blend is used in dishes across Northern 
India. It literally means "five seeds. " 

.. stfflfl 

"TOT* j f » -r 61 


The city of Banares from a boat on the Ganges river. 

1 tbsp cumin seeds* 

1 tbsp fennel seeds 

1 tbsp brown mustard seeds 

1 tbsp fenugreek seeds 

1 tbsp nigella seeds* 

♦ Combine all seeds in a 
glass jar, and seal tightly. 
(Use within one year). 


A plate of turmeric powder and cumin seeds are used to bless Mema at a paja. 


In three days her life will begin. In three days 
Mema will be married to a man she's never laid 
eyes on. In three days she will be taken 300 
kilometers away from her home to live with her 
husband's family in a village she's never seen. 
She will no longer be a daughter of her mother 
and father, but a daughter-in-law in a new 
home. She will leave behind her childhood and 
begin the life of a married woman. Her life up 
to now has been her training for married life. 

I look at Mema, dressed in a sari, yellow from 
turmeric rubbed all over her body, and she 
radiates. I see a girl my own age who will— or 
at least is expected to— grow up over night into 
a married woman: from girl to woman, from 
daughter to daughter-in-law. This is the way 
women's lives have been led for centuries: 
growing up, marrying, leaving, having 
children, raising children and, seeing 
grandchildren born. This is tradition. This will 
become Mema's life. 

Each night local women come to her house and 
sing. They close their eyes, listening to the 
thumping drum and singing songs that have 
been passed on from mother to daughter. They 
sing of fathers and brothers, of husbands taking 
new brides away, of leaving, of children, of 
happiness and of sadness. Each night, as they 
sing, I sit inside a nearby room with Mema, 
listening, trying to understand their words and 
how those verses affect her. She spies through 
the crack in the window to see the puja outside. 
We braid each other's hair, we talk of my home, 
we talk of her to-be-husband, we speak of 
children and of our futures. As we make snacks 
boxes— fried noodles, bananas, "biscuits", and 
oranges— to hand out to the guests, we laugh 
and smile, we nod with understanding, we 
gossip, we remain quiet. I know that Mema can 
teach me how to cook our favorite dish bhugiya, 
or turmeric potatoes. I know she can tell me 

about raising her sister's children, and I know 
she can teach me to wear a sari, but I wonder 
what she thinks about life and marriage, how 
she feels about leaving, and what she dreams — 
if she dreams. But then, what is the point of 
dreaming if your future had been decided for 
thousands of years? 

Mema is twenty-two years old. She is the 
youngest of five children and the last daughter 
to be married. Her entire life she has lived with 
her mother, her father, her two older brothers, 
her brother-in-law, her two older sisters, and 
their five children. Out of the twelve family 
members, ten of them live with her. Indian 
families are traditionally joint families; 
daughters are married off and live with their 
husband's family, while sons live at home their 
entire lives, marrying women and bringing 
them into the household as daughters-in-law, 
to replace the daughters who have left. One is 
constantly surrounded by family members and 
neighbors, who are typically extended family. 
In a joint family, there is no room for the 
individual, no room for self-expression; 
everything is a part of something else, everyone 
is a part of someone else. The ability to dream, 
to think beyond the walls of the home has been 
subdued; women of the house learn to repress 
their emotions, to act properly, to remain quiet 
about their hopes. From the time a girl is born, 
she is sung to and told stories of the day she 
will marry and leave home. 

Two days before her marriage I sit down with 
Mema while she mends a sari. We are alone in 
the puja room or worship room, and I ask her, 
"Are you happy?" 

"My father and brother are happy, my family 
is happy, so I am happy," she replies. I smile 
back at her, not knowing what to say. It scares 
me to look at her, because what I see is a young 
girl who once had the ambition to break all the 


rules, to be different, to break the mold of the 
typical woman. I know that days before her 
marriage, Mema burned the photographs of her 
secret boyfriend, that she made me swear not 
to tell anyone, that she had challenged her role 
as a "good" daughter. Despite her toughness 
and reluctance, here in front of me is another 
girl growing up, forced to become a proper 
Indian wife by the rules of society. But what 
scares me more is, what if I had been born in a 
small Bihari town like Mema? Would this be 
my life? In a year or two, I would be a mother, 
living far from my parents and honoring my 
husband as a god. I see a reflection of me, a 
vision of what could have been. I feel like Mema 
and I are both still children, learning to care for 
others, but not ready for motherhood or 
married life. But as I sit with Mema, watching 
her in her sari, I realize that nothing can change: 
no matter how I feel about the marriage process 
or the future of my best friend, her life is set. 

This afternoon, the singing women come to sit 
in the courtyard again. Mema is led out of the 
room where we normally sit together listening 
to their songs, by her sisters and mother, shroud 
in a yellow and gold cloth. As she sits on the 
ground in front of the gathered women, Mema's 
face remains covered, eyes averted towards the 
ground; women stand-up and bless her with 
rice. Not once do they stop singing or does the 
drum stop thumping. Mema sits there, huddled 
up in a ball, crying. Looking into all the 
women's eyes, I can see tears welling, ready to 
fall. One streams down my cheek. All of the 
women who came for the puja know what they 
are crying for: another young woman is leaving. 
Once, they too had been young girls married 
to men their fathers had selected, had moved 
away to new homes, have given their own 
daughters away to new families, and they all 
anticipate the day they will see their 
granddaughters through the wedding 
ceremony. It is a pattern of both happiness and 
immense sadness. 

At nightfall, we walk to the well, with babies in 
our arms and toddlers holding our hands. 
Annapurna, Gujari, and Shanti pay worship to 
the well, light incense, and offer water. We 


stand around watching, thinking of all the 
generations of families that have come to this 
well in preparation of a marriage. How many 
sticks of incense lay at the bottom of the well? 
How many tears have been shed here? How 
many of these women I am sitting with had once 
waited at home while their mothers went to 
pray at this same well? 

Before we left for the well, Mema was lead into 
the puja room where she and I had sat earlier 
discussing happiness. Her mother sat her down 
in front of the shrine; two forgotten saris 
remained in the back of the room next to baskets 
piled high with sweets called ladoos. These 
sweets were to be offered on the wedding night, 
these saris to be worn at her husband's home. 
As I looked at the ladoos, small yellow balls of 
chickpea flour, ghee, and sugar, I thought of all 
the types of sweets Mema would never get to 
try. Not just the smores, creme brulee, and 
chocolate fudge I craved, but also the things I 
plan to do, like backpacking through South 
America, ordering a beer in a local pub, 
graduating from college, going on a date. As I 
watched her and thought of all the things Mema 
would never do, it felt like her life had ended; 
though to her family, it was just beginning. 
Mema held her head in her hands and sobbed. 
Children ran around the courtyard as we 
prepared to go, oblivious of their weeping 
mothers. Mema's hunched-over back was the 
last I saw of her that night before the doors to 
the puja room were closed. As we departed, 
she was left alone to cry to her gods and pray 
for her future. 

At the well, I wonder what Mema is thinking, 
alone amongst gods and ladoos, what dreams 
of hers now have to be forgotten, what 
childhood memories she will hold onto as she 
prepares for marriage. As she begins life in a 
new house, will she forget the recipes from 
Bodh Gaya and her childhood to learn new ones 
in her husband's mother's kitchen? Will she take 
recipes such as chokha along with her, teaching 
her daughters to make it as she once taught me? 
I stand with a baby in my arms and mothers by 
my side and wonder what awaits Mema in her 
new kitchen. 

Opposite page: A man mediates in a sinking temple. 



Dal is made everyday for lunch. The women who make it can do it blind-folded. 

Though the recipe changes daily-a little less ghee or a little more turmeric-this is 

a basic recipe that is made in the many households ofBodh Gaya. 

1 Vi cups pink or red lentils 
Vi tsp turmeric 

4 cups water 

2 tsp salt 

3 tbsp mustard oil* 
2-3 dried red chilies 

1 tsp cumin seeds* 

4 cloves garlic chopped 

2 tsp ghee* (optional) 
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, 

chopped (optional) 

Local women gather for a dowry puja. 


Wash lentils in cold water and place in a deep pot with water. 

Bring lentils to a boil over high heat. 

Add turmeric, and reduce heat to low. 

Cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. 

Add salt and stir well. 

In a small frying pan, heat oil until it smokes. 

Add cumin to oil, saute until it becomes brown, about 30 seconds. 

Add chilies and garlic, saute until garlic is browned and chilies turn 

darker, but not burned. 
Pour spices into dal and mix well; serve in small bowls. 
For extra flavor add ghee to the pot of dal just before serving. 
If desired, garnish bowls with fresh cilantro. 



ko kk 


Chokha is basically Indian mashed potatoes, filled with spice and 

flavor. Small portions are divided amongst the family members and 

men and children typically receive more than the women. 

6 small red potatoes, halved, 

boiled, and peeled 
2 tsp salt 
Chokha masala see p. 46 

♦ Boil potatoes and peel off skin. 

♦ Mash potatoes together with 
masher, spoon, or hands. 

♦ Add salt and mix well. 

♦ Add chokha masala and mix 
thoroughly; serve. 

J I i-fff- ? 

r * v 

Mema and her sisters walk together the morning of her wedding 




from the Sim 


This is my favorite food that I learned from the Singh women. Its similiarity to 

french fries, but with an Indian kick, makes me love it and miss it the most when I 

am away from Bodh Gaya. It is often served at lunch and at dinner; among the 

household, it was one of the favorite meals, made up to four times a week. 

Wash potatoes. 

Mash garlic cloves together to 

form paste, adding 1 tbsp of 

water into mixture. 

In a large fry pan or wok, heat 

oil until smoking. 

Add chilies and brown; once 

browned remove from oil and 

set aside for later. 

Over medium heat, add 

8 small red potatoes, sliced 
thin like french fries 

l A cup mustard oil* 

4 dried red chilies 

8 cloves garlic, mashed into 

1 tbsp water 

2 tsp turmeric 

3 tsp salt 

2 tbsp water 

potato, cover and stir. 

occasionally, about 6 minutes. 

Add turmeric, garlic paste, salt, and 2 tbsp water. 

Fry about 6 minutes more, or until potatoes are cooked and golden 

in color; serve. 

Family members apply turmeric paste to Mema days before her marriage. 


Mema's grandmother sits behind Mema during a pre-weding puja. 

Sunset of Bodh Gaya from across the river. 

Mud homes in a small village outside Bodh Gaya. 


Mema's feet covered in intricate mehndi designs for her marriage. 

fyecom i \Ak mem^ 

The days are quiet since Mema left. 
Annapurna spends her time in her home 
behind her mother's house; Gujari and I make 
lunch over the two-burner stove; Shanti 
sleeps under the rotating ceiling fan; men rush 
through the courtyard and up to the roof, 
disassembling the wedding tent. Gujari's 
daughters, Babli and Ladly, still run around 
the house, unable to comprehend that their 
Aunty Mema has left for good; they listen for 
her return with each motorcycle that drives 

Though Mema's wedding ended three days 
ago, the house still feels empty. We go about 
our lives, cleaning and cooking, in somber 
moods, unaccustomed to the silence that has 
fallen over us. For the past two weeks, the 
house has been filled with wedding 
preparations, new saris and matching glass 
bangles, visiting family members, wedding 
food. Each day there was a new task to 
perform— picking through rice, removing the 
stones and dirt, assembling 600 cardboard 
snack boxes for wedding guests, stuffing 350 
glittery wedding invitations, trips to the 
beauty parlor in Gaya, performing pujas. But 
now there is none of this, just the blabber of 
the television set, the laughter of children, and 
the heat of the sun. Leftover wedding food 
has been finished off or given to beggars, 
visitors have gone home, and wedding saris 
have been washed and folded. It looks as 
though there had never been a wedding to 
begin with. 

After lunch, when everyone has retreated 
inside to nap under the ceiling fan, I walk 
around the empty courtyard; it is one of the 
few moments I have to myself throughout the 
day. The dishes sit beneath the dripping 
water tap, flies buzz over spilled grains of rice 

and dollops of chutney, an empty pot of chai 
leaves sits on the wall behind the stove. I look 
at the two-burner stove splattered with 
masala; the kitchen feels lonely, like a skeleton 
of a once vibrant soul. In the past few days, 
Gujari has taken on Mema's role of cooking 
meals. And I have filled the role Gujari left: 
washing and dressing the children, sweeping 
the floor, making tea, feeding Babli her bottle. 
I have seen the tasks performed and helped 
so often, I know what to do. I know to rub 
the sisters with coconut oil before putting on 
their clothes and to comb their hair parted 
on the side, to sweep out the big room after 
lunch and before napping, and to clear the 
dishes to the tap outside. It seems natural. 

I was left behind in the 

courtyard when her van 

drove away; Mema had 

joined the ranks of the 

generations of women that 

came before her. 

These days I no longer play tag with Sonu on 
the roof or sit quietly watching Shanti and 
Gujari and Nani prepare dinner. I fill in as a 
lost daughter, doing all I can to help. If only 
I could milk the cow or care for Ladly and 
Babli the way Mema could. Mema, though 
only twenty-two years old, had been a mother 
since she was born, as many Indian girls are, 
always caring for cousins, sisters, or nieces. 
But Mema, unlike me, had slipped into the 
role of mother long before she was one. 
Mema could punish them correctly, knew 
which clothes to dress them in, knew how to 


make Babli stop crying. I am still learning, 
still practicing how to light the stove and how 
to properly char tomatoes for chutney. I wish 
that Mema was here to help me now. 

She left on a Saturday morning, after a long 
night of wedding ceremonies and no sleep. 
She was decorated with red and gold glass 
bangles, a red and silver satin sari, and gold 
earrings and nose ring; she wore new silver 
payals or anklets with bells, and jasmine 
flowers hung in her hair. She was beautiful. 
With tired and nervous feet, she walked 
around the courtyard where we had all 
gathered to say goodbye. She was leaving 
her home for the last time as a daughter. The 
next time she returns, she will be a daughter- 
in-law. Sobs echoed from her as she hugged 
each person; her brand new husband stood 
outside the door, waiting for her to finish her 
goodbyes. We all cried watching her. Her 
mother wailed as they embraced; she touched 
her father's feet to say goodbye, barely able 
to form words through her tears. He told her 
to be good to her new father as she was to 
him, then he told her to go, "Jaol" Mema 
walked out the door with her sisters by her 
side, pushing the door's hanging sheet aside 
as they went. We threw colored rice at the 
van as it drove down the small road, taking 
Mema away from us. 

Above: Mema and her husband complete the wedding ceremony. 
Opposite page: Turmeric application will make Mema's skin glow 
for her marriage day. 

When a daughter is born, you inevitably 
know that one day she will leave. But how 
do you prepare for such a loss? When Mema 
left, it felt like her life had halted, like she had 
died. She left for a new village, with a new 
husband and a new father— how will she 


survive? At times like this, times of such 
sadness, it is hard to see that life goes on, that 
she will ever be happy again. But then I look 
at Phuwa and Shanti who are now happy; 
they once were lonely brides like Mema, 
crying as they left their families and cooking 
kheer or rice pudding for their new families— 
I see them and realize that Mema will find 
happiness again. Though it feels like life has 
ended, I look at the elders and see them still 
smiling, and realize that it hasn't. 

As I pick-up the stray dishes around the 
courtyard, the ground still slightly stained 
from Holi, I think about the long days I have 
spent in the house lately, listening to 
conversation and working. Since Mema has 
left, I have filled her spot. Though I am not 
the same as Mema, I do my best to become 
her, to help as she helped, to smile as she 
smiled. Mema may have been prepared for 
marriage, I don't know, but I was not ready 
for her to be married. I didn't want her to be 
a lonely bride or to move away and cook kheer 
for her new family. I wasn't ready for Mema's 
last chapter; I wasn't ready for Mema's kheer. 
For a girl this young to enter the community 
of married women and mothers feel 
premature, like she has been shipped-off 
before her time, before I was ready to say 
goodbye. I feel sad, I feel loss; her culture 
decided our friendship, decided that it was 
time for her to become a woman. I was left 
behind in the courtyard when her van drove 
away; Mema had joined the ranks of the 
generations of women that came before her. 
But I am glad I am not Mema. I am not ready 
for marriage, for families, for children. I 
cannot become a part of the community of 
married women and mothers yet— but she 
has. As she grows older she will feel the 
strength of the female bond; she will attend 
pujas and see babies born. She will cook kheer 
on holidays and sing at weddings. Though 
we still cry in the mornings and evenings, 
grieving her departure, I know Mema will 
one day master the dessert kheer and I know 
one day my appetite will be ready to taste it. 




Kheer is the first dish that a new wife makes in her husband's house. When Mema left 
us with her new husband, she may have made kheer that night in a new house, in a 
new kitchen, for her new parents. This dessert originated in the area I was living, it 
was served to the Buddha by a young girl named Sujata, after he had fasted for many 
weeks. It is made with great pride in Bihar, as kheer is the primary dessert of India. 

Vi cup Basmati rice 

Vi cup water 

4 cups whole milk 

Vi cup golden raisins 

3 /4 -1 cup sugar 

1 tsp cardamom seeds, 

Vi cup shredded almonds 
6-8 drops rose water* 

Wash and drain the rice. Soak 
in Vi cup water for 30 minutes. 

Boil the rice in the same water 
until it is coated and the water 
dries up. 

Pour in milk, bring to a boil, 
add sugar and simmer on low 
heat for 1 Vi hours. 

Scrape the sides and bottom 
frequently to prevent sticking, 
mash rice while stirring. 

When it is creamy and rice is 
fully cooked, remove from 
heat, add crushed cardamom 
seeds, raisins, rose water and 
shredded almonds; serve. 

Babli hides in the shadows. 



6 H^l 

Chai is enjoyed in early mornings and late afternoons. It is a time to relax and take a 

break from daily work— men gather at corner chai shops, women sit in courtyards, 

children sip from their sisters' cups. I hope that this book will provide an opportunity 

for you to sit down and enjoy the day, just like a good cup of chai. 

Pour milk and water to a small 

sauce pan. 

As it heats up, add tea leaves or tea 

bags and cassia leaves. 

Just before it reaches a boil, add 

sugar and stir well. 

Let boil, careful not to let it 

overflow, for about 3 minutes. 

Strain tea leaves or remove tea 

bags; serve. 

1 Vi cups whole milk 

3 A cup water 

2-3 tsp tea leaves or 2 black 

tea bags 

3 tbsp sugar (add more for 

Indian-style sweet tea) 

2 small cassia leaves* 

Saris wait to be folded. 






Atta Flour: Atta is a fine-milled whole-wheat 
flour that is used to make Indian flat breads. 
It is available from Indian grocers, but finely 
ground or stone-ground whole-wheat flour 
can be substituted. 

Cassia Leaf: Cassia leaf is known as the Indian 
bay leaf, though European leaves have a 
different flavor. Cassia leaf is used in masalas 
and in chai; the leaves have a slightly clove- 
like aroma, and are available from an Indian 
grocer. If unavailable, European bay leaves 
can be substituted, but will yeild a very 
different flavor. 

Channa Flour: Channa is a legume that is 
often used in dais or eaten fresh. Here it has 
been ground into flour and is used to make 
pakori because of it's lightness. White flour 
can be substituted if channa flour is 


£K <f 


Holi day is filled with smiles. 

Above: A wedding Puja is performed with Mema 
and her mother and father. 

Cumin: Either in seed or powder, a special 
effort should be made to find cumin from 
India. The type sold in most grocery stores 
comes from Mexico and yeilds a flavor that 
is very different from the ideal Indian flavor. 

Ghee: Ghee is Indian clarified butter, all of 
the milk solids have been boiled and strained 
out of the butter, and the amber fat is then 
cooled and used. It has a slightly nutty sweet 
taste to it. It is available from specialty 
grocery stores. 

Mirchi Powder: Mirchi, which means pepper 
in Hindi, is often used whole, fresh, or in 
powder form. I like to use Kashmiri Mirchi, 
which is available at Indian grocers, but 
cayenne pepper can be used in place of 
authentic mirchi powder. 


Mustard Oil: Mustard Oil is a deep golden 
oil with a bitter taste derived from the 
mustard plant. It is used across Northern 
India for cooking and frying foods; before 
proceeding with the recipe, the oil is heated 
to its smoking point and then allowed to cool 
a little before using. This eliminates its 
pungent smell. Any oil can be used to 
substitute mustard oil. 

Nigella Seeds: Also known as onion seeds, 
which it is not related to, Nigella is used in 
pickling and the spice blend Panch Phoran to 
add sweetness to a dish. There is no 

Rose Water: Rose water is used mostly in 
desserts and cool drinks. It is easy to find in 
specialty stores. 

Photos on front cover: 

Mema poses for a photographer the night of her wedding. 

Poori puffs up as it fries in oil. 

Chopped spinach sits in a basket. 

Aloo mutter, or peas and potatoes, are cooked for the 
evening meal. 

A freshly bathed baby drys in the sunlight. 

The women of the Singh family on Holi afternoon.